Cultivating Innovation to Solve Social Problems Means Leveraging Current Resources
3 Reasons Why I Do Not Always Recommend New Nonprofits Be Created to Solve Old Social Problems
Recently, I have had conversations with city leaders, social innovation experts and philanthropists on how we the people, collectively, can do more to impact change in North Texas.
As a consultant to nonprofits for over 15 years and a volunteer committee member for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas' Social Innovation Accelerator, formerly GroundFloor, we have the honor of assessing the landscape of the nonprofit sector, analyzing new technologies, and reviewing new program models created by new and veteran not-for-profit and some for-profit ventures who are working to solve problems in the areas of healthcare, homelessness, education, food insecurities and financial stability.
Today, there are so many people hurting in our society. We read about the challenges every day in the newspaper or on social media that people face daily. Children who cannot read. Children who are hungry. Women dying due to domestic violence. Men unable to find fair paying jobs. Trafficking of young girls and boys. Parents dying from treatable illnesses or diseases due to lack of access to healthcare. Corporations stifled growth due to the lack of available and qualified talent to fill jobs quickly. Suicide and gun violence at an all time high due to mental illness and bullying. The challenges are abound.
I believe most people want to be good, they want to help in a structured and meaningful way, and they want to know they didn't just a hold a mobile phone camera up to the situation and watch it happen. Often, people feel the best way for them to make a difference is to start a new non-profit to solve an old problem. A problem that is either personal to them, close to their heart or an area of interest that they feel they have the power to change. Their hearts are in the right place but I differ, to some degree, on the approach to addressing the issues.
But, where can we find innovative solutions to social problems? Why does it seem the old guard are simply placing bandaids on an open artery? We need to cultivate more innovation in our community through collaboration. The recent story I shared on LinkedIn this weekhighlighted a school district in Indiana that looked at the hunger problem children faced in their district and collectively tested an idea to solve that problem with resources currently available to them. The district worked through the bureaucratic red tape and food safety issues, invested in the process and infrastructure to support packaging and freezing perfectly good surplus food from the district's dining service and lunch rooms. Thus, on Fridays children, who qualified or were in need, were sent home with frozen meals to eat over the weekend at no cost.
HUNGRY CHILD + SURPLUS FOOD - WASTE = INNOVATION
A new nonprofit did not have to be formed, just new and fresh ideas recruited from the community, a willingness by the leaders to listen and work to find a way to make the solution work efficiently and effectively, and to do something to solve a real problem in this country in an innovative way.
SOCIAL INNOVATION ACCELERATOR
I believe when great minds come together to look at a problem from a different perspective, when resources from diverse sources are pledged and shared, and people lean in to get the work done for the greater good real solutions can be found without working in silos or raising capital to waste on programs with minimal impact and even less traction. Sometimes the community that needs the help the most simply will not respond.
This is why support for the local United Way of Metropolitan Dallas's Social Innovation Accelerator, Dallas Social Venture Partners and others is so important in North Texas. The need for more innovation cultivation, meaning the creation of new solutions which utilize current resources, technology and brain power to solve social problems, remains top priority in North Texas. On April 16th, five local nonprofit organizations will participate in the Pitch and Vote competition that will be held at Gilley's. These organizations are taking a new approach to expand their reach, to impact more people and communities and leveraging partnerships to solve social problems that we read about every day in the news.
BEFORE YOU REACT
If you want to start a new 501(c)3 to solve a social problem - STOP. First, take a look at who is working in the space currently, identify applications, technology or programs on the market that are delivering today that could use an extra hand or check to improve or do more, and get involved on the ground floor and see what impact your idea, your time and resources could bring to the table.
You may find you will have more impact, less headache and frustration chasing dollars, and your ideas may go from zero to one hundred with the collective versus working separately. In the end, more people are served, problems are tackled and I believe that is all that really matters versus who is in charge.
Watch and Learn
Dallas Morning News reports, this week, United Way kicks off its 3rd Annual Social Innovation Competition with a week of online voting before the live pitch event on Tuesday, April 16.
The stakes are high — local social entrepreneurs are vying for up to $225,000 in funding — with awards given for the most online votes and the best pitches to a panel of judges and live audience.
Take a look at the five nonprofits working to solve five problems through education, partnerships, programs, technology, teams, mentors and volunteers. Vote and volunteer to see how you can help before investing in your own. There is accelerated power in the collective.